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Malik Hooker: ‘We’re Capable Of Winning Now’

Indianapolis Colts safety Malik Hooker (29) runs in coverage during a week 6 NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017 in Nashville, Tenn. Tennessee won 36-22. (Aaron M. Sprecher via AP)

INDIANAPOLIS — Check out the injured reserve and physically unable to perform lists for the Indianapolis Colts last season, and it’s a who’s who of key players that ended up missing significant time — if not the entire season.

On offense, there was quarterback Andrew Luck, center Ryan Kelly, running back Robert Turbin, guard Jack Mewhort, tight end Erik Swoope, tackle Denzelle Good and backup center Deyshawn Bond. On defense, there was safety Malik Hooker, outside linebacker John Simon, cornerback Rashaan Melvin, cornerback Pierre Desir, defensive end Henry Anderson and linebacker Edwin Jackson.

Those voids, coupled with the team’s inability to capitalize on halftime leads week after week, proved difficult to overcome, and Indianapolis could only muster four wins on the season — the franchise’s fewest since 2011 and just the third time in 19 seasons the Colts had failed to reach at least .500 on the year.

In fact, prior to last season, the Colts had averaged more than 10 wins per year since 1999.

Since the 2017 season came to an end, change has been abundant in Indianapolis. The Colts have a new head coach in Frank Reich, who has brought on board almost a completely brand new staff that have instituted fresh schemes on offense and on defense. General manager Chris Ballard has also continued putting his mark on the roster, most notably by bringing in an 11-player 2018 NFL Draft class, the most selections by the team since the draft went to a seven-round format back in 1994.

And even though the roster continues to get younger, and even though positions, on both sides of the ball, are continuing to be developed, there’s a feeling within the Colts organization that the 2018 season isn’t just an opportunity to lay the foundation for future success.

“I’m definitely the guy that I feel like we’re capable of winning now,” Hooker told reporters during this offseason. “You know, we’ve got a lot of great players, a lot of good players coming back as well. So I feel like this year, we’ve got a young, fast and good, physical team, so I feel like we’re definitely capable of winning now.”

Should Indianapolis have any sort of quick turnaround, Hooker is sure to play a major role.

The Colts’ first-round (15th-overall) pick in last year’s NFL Draft, the Ohio State product was playing just about as well as any defensive rookie across the league when he suffered a torn ACL Week 7 against the Jacksonville Jaguars and had to undergo season-ending surgery.

At the time, Hooker had three interceptions — all three of which he had earned in consecutive games across Weeks 2-4 — and he certainly looked the part of the ballhawking safety that took the college game by storm in 2016 with seven interceptions, three of which he returned for touchdowns.

Hooker used this offseason to continue to progress through his rehab work with hopes of getting back to the practice field as soon as possible. While he missed the entire on-field portion of the offseason workout program, there’s a chance Hooker could find his way back to a practice setting by the time training camp rolls around (the Colts’ first camp practice on July 26 will be just more than nine months since he suffered his knee injury). Reich could provide an update on the injured Colts players when the team reports to camp on July 25.

But no matter when Hooker is able to get back to 100 percent, he’s confident in the players in the secondary playing in his place, such as Matthias Farley and T.J. Green. Same goes for those filling in for Geathers, who also missed the entire on-field portion of the offseason workout program but could return by training camp.

Sure, there were a lot of key players injured last year, but Hooker said the team never tried to use that as an excuse at the end of the day, and it certainly won’t begin doing it this year, either.

“I feel like we can’t really pay attention to stuff like that — who’s out there and who’s not,” Hooker said. “I feel like we’ve got enough good backups for us to still be able to go out there and play at a high level. So I definitely feel like, like I said, whether I come back healthy or not or whoever else, I still feel like we’re capable of winning a lot of ballgames this year.”

And whenever the Colts do get their talented, young safety duo back to full health, coupled with a young, talented group of cornerbacks that includes the likes of second-year players Quincy Wilson and Nate Hairston — watch out.

“I definitely feel like we’re a group that can take that next (step),” Hooker said. “Like I said, you figure we were missing Clayton Geathers — a lot of us were dealing with injuries last year week in and week out, and I feel like this is just a fresh start for us. The offseason’s time for you to get your body ready for the season, and I feel like we’re doing a great job of that right now. So I definitely feel like we can take the next step in being a great secondary this year.”

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